Friday, January 22, 2010

Weekend in Osaka: Day 2

The next day (Jan. 10) I woke up and my throat was absolutely KILLING me. The cough and congestion had gotten worse, and I could barely talk. Plus I felt kind of sore all over (body aches). But I was in Osaka and had a jam-packed day of sightseeing planned, so I just kept telling myself that everything was fine. To be on the safe side, though, I did wear a mask since I didn’t want to infect anyone if I could help it. (I should’ve learned from the previous day, though, and worn contacts since wearing a mask in the winter pretty much guarantees that your glasses will be continually fogged up.)

I had a quick breakfast (chai tea latte and a satsuma imo muffin) at Starbucks. Then I walked down to Osaka Station (about 10-15min) to buy an Osaka Unlimited Pass from the Osaka Visitor’s Information Center. It was really a good deal: 2000 yen for a 1-day subway (and limited private lines) pass, plus free entrance to various attractions. When I was buying the pass, the woman asked me if I thought I’d be able to go to at least three of the places; I went to six.

I pretty much stuck to the itinerary I posted in December, with only minor changes to the order/times. Well, I did skip one temple—the Taiyuji Temple—but I had only put it in to kill time before going to Floating Garden Observatory (so I could see the night view of Osaka) anyway, so it wasn’t a big loss.

Anyway, my first stop was Shitennoji. I had estimated that I’d go through it in 30minutes, but it turned out to be a pretty huge complex, so I ended up spending closer to an hour there. I went through the temple and the Treasure house, but wasn’t able to enter the garden since it didn’t open until 10am (and I wasn’t willing to wait and throw my schedule off even further).

Next was the Osaka International Peace Center. I was impressed because it actually addressed Japanese imperialism in China, Korea and other Southeast Asian countries. It even talked about comfort women. Also, I found it interesting to learn about the fire bombing in Osaka. I guess the main images of the war that you see are of the atomic bomb, but the fire bombing was of course also incredibly destructive and devastating. While I was wandering through the exhibits, I heard an announcement about a video (animated) that would be shown. Turns out there were multiple showings throughout the day, and each video was different. The one I watched was about elementary students from Osaka that were sent into the countryside for “training”.

Unfortunately, as interesting as everything was, because I was sick I didn’t feel able to go through things as thoroughly as I might have otherwise liked to have done. If I had been feeling better, I probably could’ve spent 1.5hrs there instead of going through it in about 1hr.

Following that I went to Osaka Castle. The walk through the park to the castle was much easier in the daylight. =P Since the Edo Period is one of the times I find most interesting in Japanese history, pretty much everything in the Osaka Castle (its construction was initiated by Toyotomi Hideyoshi) museum was of interest to me. But again, since I was sick and the museum was quite crowded, I didn’t really go through everything as slowly as I might have normally.

Once I finished in the castle, I had lunch! Thanks to the cold/flu/whatever-it-was, I didn’t have much of an appetite, but I still managed to polish off a tray of takoyaki. Being my usual impatient self, I burned my tongue and the roof of my mouth eating it, but it was still delicious.

A friend had told me that when you eat Osaka takoyaki it makes you think that everything else you’d eaten up to then wasn’t truly “takoyaki” but I thought that was mere hyperbole. It wasn’t. I don’t have a particularly refined palate or anything, and my sense of taste isn’t all that acute, but even I could tell that the taste and texture of the octopus was completely different from anything I’ve had in Aomori (even the octopus caught by Kyoto-sensei at Kirita). I guess my misunderstanding was that I thought my friend meant that the takoyaki tasted different because of the way it was made (like the batter or cooking technique), but really it was a difference in the quality of octopus.

Anyway, after the takoyaki I had awaokoshi (millet-seed cake solidified with sugar and malt syrup) soft serve. That turned out to be an excellent decision (even though I bought it more out of greed and a love of novelty than out of hunger) because the ice cream really soothed my still fiercely aching throat. I was also quite proud of the self-shot I took with both the ice cream and Osaka castle clearly visible. =P

Since I ate so quickly, I was actually able to make up for the time I’d “lost” at Shitennoji, so I was at the Osaka Museum of History pretty much exactly on schedule (according to my original itinerary). Being the history nerd that I am, the Museum of History and Museum of Housing and Living (the next stop on my itinerary) were the two sites I was most looking forward to seeing in Osaka. And I was not disappointed.

One of my favourite things at the Museum of History was the section where you could “experience” being on an archaeological dig. They had a magnetic urn puzzle thing with a couple of fixed pieces to start you off. Having seen similar works in progress on the third floor of the office and completed pieces in the Towada Culture Museum, the experience of putting together the puzzle (it took a lot longer than I expected) really made me respect the work Manabu (a fellow Board of Education employee) does/did.

Another nice thing in the Museum of History was that in the late Taisho/early Showa (“The Great Osaka”) section they had volunteers who would dress you in a kimono. The volunteers would also go with you to take pictures, and the volunteer who helped me even took me around and explained a lot of the displays to me. (Invaluable since trying to read the display information—in Japanese, of course—was quite a chore, and being sick I really couldn’t be bothered to try to decipher the more difficult explanations for the most part.) I was very impressed by the volunteers’ friendliness and helpfulness.

After the Museum of History, I went to the Osaka Museum of Housing and Living. This was probably my favourite site of the trip. There was a fairly large reproduction of “typical” Edo period houses/streets. You could walk down the streets, wander through houses, play with old fashioned toys, etc. They even had weather/time changes! At one point it rained, then it got dark as if night was falling (it didn’t last too too long, though) before brightening up again with sunrise and the start of a “new” day. I’m not sure if they had them available for guys, but definitely girls could put on kimonos to walk around town in if they wanted to. (I’d had my fill of that at the Museum of History, though, so I didn’t bother.) The special exhibit 「くらしの今昔展」 (Lifestyle: Past & Present) was also interesting. I thought it was really cool to hear grandparents, adults, etc. excitedly talking about how they remembered various items on display.

Following the Museum of Housing and Living, I went to the Umeda Sky Building “Floating Garden.” I arrived a little earlier than I’d originally intended—I’d hoped to get there around/after sunset so I could take in the night view of Osaka)—but it ended up being a good thing since I was starting to get tired at that point anyway.

When I had had my fill of photo-taking, it was back to the nearest subway station to head down to Dotonbori. Once there I went straight to Botejyu. According to the website:
The name “Botejyu” is derived from the rhythmic cooking sound of okonomiyaki. The first part of the name, “bote”, comes from the flipping sound in Japanese of an okonomiyaki being turned over with a metal spatula. The second part of the name, “jyu”, represents the sound of the okonomiyaki sizzling on the teppan grill. We, at Botejyu, still value this “delicious sound” as we continue to prepare each and every okonomiyaki with care and passion.
Also according to the website, “Botejyu invented the recipe for adding mayonnaise and Japanese mustard to the sauce [flavour] okonomiyaki in 1946.”

Even though I thought I’d made it before the dinner rush, there was already a line when I got there. It moved pretty quickly, though, which was nice. I did feel a bit awkward as a “party of one” in a restaurant otherwise filled with couples, families and larger groups, but oh well. (The Gyoza Stadium was more like a food court, so I didn’t feel as out of place.) I was really thankful that they cooked the okonomiyaki for you and then brought it to your table (so the grill was only needed to keep it warm). Even though I’ve eaten okonomiyaki about 3-4 times since coming to Japan, I’ve never actually made it myself (either a server or friend always made it for me) so I’m sure it wouldn’t have turned out nearly as tasty if I’d had to cook it for myself. =P

After dinner I did a bit of omiyage shopping in Dotonbori. Even though I keep telling myself that I shouldn’t buy any more “useless” things, I couldn’t resist buying a super cute stuffed octopus from the Glico store. In the end, though, it did turn out to be a somewhat practical purchase since we used it as the ball for a game of Dr. Dodge Ball at the Minami Kominkan (community center) Children’s Eikaiwa (English conversational class) the Wednesday immediately following my trip. ^_~

Even though I was quite full from the okonomiyaki (I don’t know how I managed to eat TWO in one sitting when I was in Hiroshima last May!), I was tempted by the taiyaki (fish shaped cakes—made from a pancake/waffle-like batter—with various fillings, such as red bean paste or cream) shop advertising a “NEW” caramel cocoa “mochi mochi” flavour. (“Mochi mochi” meaning it was chewy like mochi inside, instead of having the typical cake consistency.) My throat was also still quite sore, so I ended up getting a mixed (vanilla/chocolate) soft serve cone as well as the mochi. The ice cream really did help to soothe my throat, even though it made me quite full. It was probably overkill, but I did also eat the taiyaki that night in my hotel room (it was even still fairly warm).

And that was the end of my second (and main) day in Osaka.